In the past few years, several of my close friends have opened up to me about their struggles with infertility. It’s difficult to know what to say, and what not to. On one hand, I want to be supportive and encouraging, but on the other I am terrified of saying something inadvertantly that might add to the hurt. So when Sarah, my amazing friend and the woman behind Park Road Photography, offered to open up about her experiences for Inland Mama readers, I was thrilled. Take it away Sarah!
Infertility is a tough condition to deal with. It’s sad and stressful for the couple affected by it, and it can be hard for friends and family to know how to approach it.
What do you say to someone who might never have children?
I’m very open about my fertility struggles. I know it’s not the case for every woman, but there’s something cathartic about being able to talk about it that takes away the sadness and stigma I might feel otherwise. It’s liberating for me to be able to share what my husband and I are going through when I’m asked about our plans for starting a family (and, believe me, as a married woman in her 30’s, I am asked a LOT).
The majority of my interactions with people have been nothing but positive and uplifting, but there are always those well-meaning few who have no clue what to say to someone in my situation. I thought a little guide might help.
What not to say: Relax! Don’t stress out about it! Just enjoy your husband!
Ah, the old, “relax and it will happen” cliché. If I said, “don’t picture an elephant in a tutu sipping a cup of tea,” what do you think would instantly pop into your mind? Nothing stresses out a woman struggling with infertility faster than telling her to not stress out about it. It implies that she is the cause of her infertility and that she has any control over what is happening (or not happening) inside her body.
Instead: If you think she’s stressed out and needs to relax, arrange for a night out together or with a group of friends. Help turn her thoughts from infertility to fun.
What not to say: You just have to want it! Be positive! Have faith!
Again, this implies that your friend has any control over what is happening (or not happening) inside her body. Your friend has no control over her physical abnormalities, but she does know the information presented to her by her team of medical professionals. Repeating this information means that she’s stating a set of facts, not being negative. It’s absolutely possible for her to have faith while at the same time exploring medical treatment options.
Instead: Let your infertile friend talk or even vent to you, without inserting your own opinions or dismissing her when she’s being realistic. Don’t presume to know what her struggle feels like. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is just be present and listen.
What not to say: You just have to NOT want it. Nobody ever gets pregnant who wants to!
Honestly, after hearing this from a few different people, I’m to the point where I love it and find it hilarious. Now, whenever something good happens in our lives my husband likes to joke, “we must have not wanted it!”
Instead: Ask questions. Ask what her doctors say, ask if they have a plan of action, ask how she feels about what she’s going through, and never, ever give unsolicited advice.
What not to say: Kids are a nightmare! You’re better off without them.
This is usually said by a parent whose screaming toddler is hitting another screaming toddler and they’re both smearing jam all over each other’s hair while biting each other’s arms and legs, but the truth is, your friend would give anything to be in your frazzled, sleep-deprived shoes.
Instead: Please don’t feel guilty that you have kids and she doesn’t. Talk about the good things about your kids (without going too overboard on the bliss). Opinions are mixed on this, so try to get a good sense of what she can handle and wants to hear before feeling like you have to walk on eggshells around her. Personally, I like hearing all the good things about parenthood. They make me even more excited for the chance to become a mom someday.
What not to say: Gosh, my husband and I get pregnant just by looking at each other!
This is, without question, the one that gets to me the most. Not only is it just plain insensitive, but it feels like a total burn. When I hear this, it makes me feel like I’m a hopeless case. I have to remind myself that the person saying it most likely has my best interest at heart, but it sure doesn’t feel like it at the time.
Instead: If you’re not sure what to say, ask what she needs. And if she tells you, and it’s within your power to do it, do the thing that she needs.
Despite all of the struggles in the last year and a half, I’ve had a lot of positives experiences because of my infertility. For one, it’s bonded my husband and I even closer together. He’s become an expert on my condition, and it’s been fun and heart-warming to watch his attitude transition from, “I’m willing to have another baby” (he has kids from a previous marriage) to, “I really want to have babies with you.” It’s also made me appreciate my future children even more. There’s a lot of value in finally getting something you’ve worked hard for, and I’m looking forward to seeing what treasures the future has in store.